I interviewed Ken Berlin, Chairman and CEO of the Climate Reality Project, at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Berlin last month. Here’s what he had to say…
What is the primary purpose of the Climate Reality Project?
The primary purpose of the Climate Reality Project is to build public support across all levels of society and, in this way, reverse climate change. Right now, polls show that most people believe that we should take action on climate change, but we are not getting the action we need. We are not getting it in the United States; even in Europe, things are not moving fast enough. In Germany the emissions reductions are not diminishing since 2010, they have lost their momentum. So, to change that, we think we need political support to reverse climate change. For this reason, we train people to become climate activists, go out in their community to speak about climate change, to organise around climate change and to build the public support needed for the action that we think has to be taken.
So it is really a grassroots movement, coming from the bottom and striving to take over the top. I think that is brilliant! So, who should apply to the Climate Reality Leadership Training?
We take people from every walk of life in the Climate Reality Training. We have people as young as 16 and probably people into their 70s or older. We have people from all different professions: we actually have a lot of people from the business community in this training, we have a lot of students, we have educators. So really anybody who is interested in helping to solve this terrible problem of climate change should apply to the training.
Brilliant! I am in fact here today because I think this is an incredible opportunity to take. What does it mean to be a Climate Reality Leader?
Once somebody is trained to become a Climate Reality Leader, we try to work very closely with them so they can go out and make presentations on climate change, they can get involved in specific campaigns relating to legislation that is needed in climate change, or any action that is needed in the area where they are located. They become part of a community: we have a website they join, we have regular updates, monthly updates with people who are doing this. Now, in the United States, we have 83 chapters that people can join so they can work together as a team of Climate Reality Leaders, and in Europe, we have regional coordinators in nine countries. We are really working to putting ourselves in a position to engage our Climate Reality Leaders as much as we can and make them part of the community.
For our American readers, what are chapters?
Chapters are set up around the country, we have 83 different chapters, and again they are involved in various aspects of trying to address climate change, depending on where they are located. We only started a chapter programme in August of last year, so it is less than a year old, and I think they will be over 100 chapters by the end of this year. 27 of the chapters are on college campuses, and they were started by Climate Reality’s Campus program. All the rest was started by Climate Reality Leaders, but anybody can join a chapter. They are indeed an exciting way to become involved in working on the climate change issues.
What impact has had this movement so far on the fight against climate change?
We are building towards getting to a critical mass of support so we can get the kind of measures we need to put in place in the United States and around the world. I think that our Climate Reality Leaders impacted many, many people and got them heavily involved in the issues we are working on. For example, our Climate Reality Leaders last year gave 35 climate presentations and reached over 200.000 people; they organised 2.000 meetings, they went to another 5.000 meetings; they did 500 media appearances. Climate Reality is about building that support, getting people involved, getting them to work on specific issues like getting cities and businesses to become 100% renewable. We are seeing a lot of success on that. We are working on the carbon tax and in general in building support.
Well, definitely you can say that for the United States. It is quite impressive how the Sierra Club, for example, is involving so many mayors and communities in committing and shifting to 100% renewables.
Sierra Club and Climate Reality both have 100% renewable campaigns, we do work together a lot. What we do is a little bit different than the Sierra Club: we train our people to be really experienced leaders relating to climate change. So we help them play that role, but we are delighted to work with them on this issue.
A joint movement to make a change! What are in your opinion the most urgent matters to tackle to reverse climate change? You were saying, where there is no climate denial, there are still barriers that make the shift hard. Could you tell a little bit more about this?
We are trying to transition the whole economy away from an energy system based on fossil fuels, to an energy system based on renewable energy: that relates to power plants, to automobiles. We have to look at things that are causing greenhouse gas emissions like deforestation around the world. So there are a whole series of significant issues that have to be addressed. But the most important thing is people supporting the idea of going to a green energy economy, and make the transitions we need for that to happen.
During the presentations, I could hear a lot about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, especially in the transportation sector. But I was wondering, is enough being said about the food production industry? That also has a major impact on climate change.
We could say more about the food production industry, I think people are beginning to pay more attention to it as it happens. There are two aspects to it: one is how agriculture is run, how you farm, how you raise cows and all the rest of that. There are already ways to do this that really minimise or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So that’s important on the one hand. On the other hand, we don’t tell people they can’t eat meat or anything, but we do recommend that people eat less meat, that everybody does their part by reducing consumption in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, everything is connected in the end. What innovations do you think will have the most impact on climate change?
The thing that has the most impact is when people become involved when they go to their representatives and say: “We want action!”. That has by far the most impact. It is important for people to live reasonably efficient lives, they don’t have to stop consuming but, you know, have efficient cars and efficient homes. But we are not going to solve this problem unless we have broad public support for it, and unless governments support the transition to a clean energy economy. So the most important thing is for a person to go their representatives and say: “You are going to help solve this, or I will vote against you, but if you do it I will support you”. That’s the most important thing.
So the most important thing is a mindset change, a complete mindset shift. The next training will be in Los Angeles; can you tell me more about it?
We have a very exciting training coming up in Los Angeles in late August, from the 28th to the 30th. We are going to train 2.500 new leaders, so it is a very large training. It should be inspiring; we will have a lot of interesting speakers, and we will cover a lot of very critical issues. So the hope is that as many people as possible can apply and come to the training.
Perfect! Thank you so much, it is excellent to be able to give our readers such a great insight into what the movement is about. Thank you!